Following massive pileup, Cuomo promises strict penalties for ignoring travel bans

Courtesy of the New York State Police
A 21-vehicle pileup on the state Thruway Wednesday caused the governor to warn truck and bus drivers that ignoring travel bans can endanger lives.

State Trooper, others injured in Western New York when tractor trailer caused massive pile-up during white-out conditions

Following a massive 21-vehicle pileup on the Thruway Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is warning truck and bus drivers that they will face serious fines and traffic charges — potentially even temporarily losing their licenses — if they disobey weather-related travel bans.

The governor, speaking at a state D.O.T. garage in Cheektowaga, said violators will be punished with fines up to $450, two points on their license, a suspension of their commercial drivers license and even potential criminal charges.

The pileup on Wednesday was caused by a tractor trailer operating in an area of the Thruway where a ban of tractor trailers and buses was in place for more than 48 hours. The truck driver lost control of his vehicle near the Le Roy exit and the outcome resulted in a massive pileup with several people sustaining injuries, including a state trooper whose cruiser was mangled in the accident.

Cuomo had issued a ban of large vehicles at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, prohibiting all tractor trailers and buses from traveling on the Thruway between exit 46 and the Pennsylvania state line because of heavy snow and high winds, which caused near white-out conditions.

The ban was lifted just before midnight on Thursday, but the governor promised strict enforcement of travel bans moving forward.

Cuomo warned that State Police will be making enforcement of the truck and bus vans a top priority, and as a reaction to the incident, they will be raising the penalties for those who do not comply. “It won’t just be a traffic citation, but instead a criminal charge,” Cuomo said Thursday.

“We are not kidding around about this tractor trailer ban,” Cuomo said, “We put it in place, we have the data to show that when tractor trailers violate the ban, bad things happen.”

Cuomo said most of the traffic problems related to this most recent storm were caused by drivers ignoring the ban. His update on Thursday emphasized the urgency of the ban and how police plan to enforce it moving forward. Drivers of tractor trailers and other similarly large vehicles are “not just endangering [themselves], but also other people, first responders, and emergency personnel,” he said, and it is imperative that they comply when a ban is announced.

Cuomo said state officials are looking into whether they can enforce these bans using existing technologies such as the EZ Pass. Their hope is that by scanning EZ Passes, they can determine whether trucks and other large vehicles will be heading towards, or entering, prohibited areas, and stop them before it causes an accident.

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Looking ahead and preparing for the future, hazardous travel conditions and wind chills as low as 35 degrees below zero will continue to affect the state until Friday. Cuomo also warned that dramatic warming is expected early next week, which could lead to widespread flooding in areas that received heavy snow. The governor said this warming could lead to severe flooding in creeks throughout the state, especially those with low peaks on either side.

Although local officials tend to know where the creeks back up, Cuomo urged that if you need to have debris cleared out of a creek and require DEC approval, to get it taken care of now, so that it can be dealt with before possible flooding takes place.

Following his storm briefing Thursday morning, Cuomo left on a tour of Western New York roadways to check the progress that utility companies have made in reopening roads. Cuomo promised to give another update when he finishes his tour of the state roads. As of now, the State Emergency Operations Center continues to operate at level 3.